The Importance of Religious Freedom

1st-amendIn all of the political bickering as a result of this election, we’ve lost sight of something very important, preserving our religious liberty. This is not just an important issue for Latter-day Saints, it is an important issue for all people, regardless if they are people of faith or not.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This is the first right enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Freedom of religion, coupled with freedom of speech are the two most important rights, we as Americans, have. Sadly, we know, we see, and we are experiencing the loss of these two rights daily. Lawsuits, political correctness, and people and groups with agendas are working overtime to make sure these rights are diminished, or only protected for certain classes of people, and that people of faith are excluded from the public square, and even punished for their faith.

The LDS Church has taken a stand with other faith groups on this issue. Yesterday, a letter was sent to Pres. Barack Obama, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan and President, Pro Temp of the Senate, Orrin Hatch, as a response to a report issued by the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. The report stated,

“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

This is a commission, made up of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats which has the power to influence law and policy in this country.

The response from these faith-based leaders stated,

“We wish to express our deep concern that the Commission has issued a report, Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Non-Discrimination Principles with Civil Liberties, that stigmatizes tens of millions of religious Americans, their communities, and their faith-based institutions, and threatens the religious freedom of all our citizens. … [W]e are one in demanding that no American citizen or institution be labeled by their government as bigoted because of their religious views, and dismissed from the political life of our nation for holding those views. And yet that is precisely what the Civil Rights Commission report does.”

Read the full text of the letter HERE.

Because of our history, Latter-day Saints understand, more than most groups and churches in this country, the impact of discrimination on people of faith. Religious freedom and by extension freedom of speech, is something that we must fight for, and must be aware of, especially right now. Churches, faith based groups, private and/or religious schools (both secondary and post secondary) have the right to establish their standards, and to maintain those standards – and it is not discrimination. Churches, faith-based groups, and religious schools have the right to exist in the open in this country as well.

As part of the free marketplace of ideas and institutions we can search for groups, schools, and churches that preach what we believe in or agree with. If you want to be part of a church or a group, then abide by their rules, standards. However, it is contrary to the nature of the American people to force these groups to conform to a proscribed set of government issued or politically correct ideals. Because the Latter-day Saints might disagree with this group or that church, does not make the LDS Church bigoted or hateful. It simply means we disagree on issues, and the individual is free to move on in the marketplace of ideas and beliefs.

In this contentious political season, let’s remember what is really at stake here. It’s not one candidate over the other, because candidates come and go. It’s the values and principles upon which our nation is based that matter. As Latter-day Saints we need to search out and join other faith-based groups, churches, and our neighbors, to fight for freedom of religion and freedom of speech. If we do not stand up for these things, they will be taken from us.

For further reading on this issue see these links:
Elder Oaks speaks at Chapman University School of Law

Chapman University, video

Elder Oaks speech to the U.S. Religious Freedom Conference, Dallas, Texas, transcript

Dallas Conference, video

People of Faith Should Defend Religious Freedom

A Mormon Perspective on Religious Freedom, transcript

A Mormon Perspective on Religious Freedom, video

The Boundary Between Church and State, video

Elder Oaks speaks at Oxford on Religious Freedom, video

Elections, Hope, and Freedom, BYU Devotional, Elder Oaks

6 thoughts on “The Importance of Religious Freedom

  1. This is going to be the cultural and ideological battle that will define the rest of our lives. I hope we’re ready for the task at hand, because it’s going to be hard.

  2. Great article!

    I’m a seminary teacher (in Germany) and always tell my students that the religious freedom we still enjoy is historically unprecedented and not normal. They must be prepared when (there’s no if, it’s only a matter of times) times become “normal” again and religious freedom will be gone.

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